(movie review done of the 3-D IMAX version. The Blu-Ray doesn't offer the 3-D version.)
There are few things I dislike more in modern moviegoing than the 3D IMAX glasses. While few seem to agree with me, I find these bulky glasses irritating and often unnecessary, as most of the 3D pictures make little use of the format beyond throwing out random images towards the audience. Beyond that, the cinematography in most IMAX productions is so stunning that the images are often more pleasing without any gimmicks in the way.
"Space Station", on the other hand, opens with a sequence so stunning that that one scene made the 3D aspect of the film entirely worthwhile. The opening, an utterly dizzying sequence where an astronaut is trying to climb the space station, gives the viewer that remarkable feeling of being there, looking down into the abyss.
Narrated wonderfully in smirky and genuinely energetic fashion by Tom Cruise, the IMAX feature takes viewers up into the International Space Station to experience life with the American and Russian astronauts, who - when not goofing off - must conduct experiments to research how humans are effected by space, among other things.
Director Toni Meyers is certainly no stranger to large-format adventures in space. Meyers has previously edited nearly all of the major large-format space pictures, including "Destiny In Space", "Blue Planet, "The Dream is Alive" and "Hail Columbia!". She produced "Mission to Mir" and narrated "Blue Planet".
Meyers, who also recieves screenwriting credit, spends a fine mixture of time covering information about the mission of the astronauts, providing spectacular imagery and offering a moving and inspiring discussion of how all of these people from different countries have come together to work and discover the universe. Even with a rather quick 47 minute running time, the film achieves a fine balance of imagery (there are several unforgettable moments aside from the opening space walk, which I won't ruin here) and education.
"Space Station" is one of the finest IMAX features I've seen in a long while. While there was a period in recent years where the format was used largely for hokey fictional tales (see the dismal "T-REX"), several new IMAX offerings have thankfully been more concerned with educating the audience and providing a more high-quality and involving experience for the high price of an IMAX ticket.
Filmmakers have used the large-format IMAX cameras around the world to transport viewers into the middle of jungles, deserts and other environments that people usually don't get a chance to venture into that often. The obvious next step was to send IMAX filming into space; several movies (including "The Dream Is Alive") have allowed cameras up into space to capture the majesty of space and the astounding sight of Earth from out in the cosmos.
"Mission To Mir" continues upon the format's exploration of space. This time, it focuses on American and Russian astronauts who joined together on the famed Mir space station. Cinematographer James Neihouse (who was also the cinematographer for "Dream Is Alive" and director of "Destiny In Space") captured the footage on the ground, but left things up to the astronauts to capture the goings-on in the space station.
The majority of the film revolves around astronaut Shannon Lucid's stay on the station, which was unexpectedly extended when there were technical problems. The film could have been more heavily involved in this situation, but it smartly balances out the meeting of the minds and friendships that develop between the astronauts of two different nations. This may sound a bit cheesy, but I really found it very inspiring to watch and hear more about the groups working together in the middle of space.
Some of the IMAX films, whether in space or not, do occasionally feel a little dry and slow, but "Mission To Mir" was engaging not only visually, but it also provided an interesting story as we journeyed with the astronauts into space.
VIDEO: Both films are presented in 1.78:1 (VC-1/1080p), which differs from the 1.33:1 full-frame presentation that both films got on DVD. "Mission to Mir" is about 11 years old at this point, and "Space Station" is 6 years old. Both films look outstanding on this release, especially "Space Station". While "Space Station" on home video is never going to replicate the experience of watching the film in 3-D on a giant IMAX screen, the picture does see some improvements over the DVD release on Blu-Ray. Sharpness and detail are noticeably improved, as fine details of the space station are now clearly visible on the Blu-Ray presentation, and depth to the image is more impressive on this edition. While a touch of aliasing was seen and some print flaws were noticed, the picture otherwise looked smooth and clean. While some scenes offered subdued colors, instances of bolder colors looked vibrant and well-saturated. Colors in general seemed to have a bit more "pop" on this release than the DVD. "Mir" looks better than the DVD edition, but the older film does appear a tad soft at times, and some mild print wear is seen at times. The film's color palette was a little subdued, but generally looked accurately presented.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for "Space Station" was perfectly enjoyable, as the surrounds kicked in nicely for the occasional sound effect, dialogue and some fine, detailed ambience. This isn't the most aggressive IMAX audio presentation, but it works fine for this particular picture. Audio quality was terrific, with excellent clarity and detail, in terms of sound effects, dialogue and score.
While I wouldn't rank the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for "Mission to Mir" among the most remarkable IMAX sound experiences I've heard, it stood out as a bold example of the large format's often breathtaking sound use. Surrounds are put into use throughout much of the documentary, whether for an extremely generous amount of ambient sounds and details or the film's score. The rocket launches that are shown in the film deliver exactly the kind of sound experience home theater fans desire from such sequences; a strong amount of surround use and some very strong low bass.
Audio quality was fantastic; the music came through with remarkable richness, power and warmth, while sounds were captured clearly - from the most delicate to the most thunderous. Dialogue was also clearly captured and always easily understood.
EXTRAS: The feature-length IMAX film "Mission to Mir" is offered as the only extra. What's really unfortunate is that there was a commentary and other extras included with the "Space Station" DVD, and it's too bad that those extras were not carried over here. "Mission to Mir"'s DVD edition also offered a short "making of" that is nowhere to be found here.
Final Thoughts: "Space Station" and "Mission to Mir" are fantastic IMAX features, offering fascinating behind-the-scenes footage. While it's nice that the Blu-Ray edition combines both films for one reasonable price ($19.95 at Amazon), it's too bad that the extras that were on the DVD editions of both films were left off. Still, recommended.